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February 16th 1730

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Highland service

Captain James Burt worked with General Wade in his task of constructing roads in the Highlands of Scotland. Not very much is known of the man who later returned to England, except that he is thought to have died in poverty. His ‘Letters from the North of Scotland’ were published after his death and proved to be very popular at the time.

He had a low opinion of the Highlanders and was appalled by what he considered to be the poverty, the squalor, the ignorance and the indolence of the people. The lairds he considered to be both cruel and vain. As an Englishman he felt an innate superiority towards the Scots and he made few allowances for the fact that he was living and working among Gaelic speaking supporters of the Stewarts. Even so his ‘Letters’ paint an interesting, if unflattering, view of the country.

“There is another thing very inconvenient to the traveller, which I had omitted. He is made to wait a most unreasonable while for everything for which he has occasion. I shall give only one instance among a hundred.

At the Blair of Athol, benighted tired and hungry, I came to an inn and was put into a room without any light; where, knowing the dilatory way of these people, I sat patiently waiting for a candle near half and hour; at last quite tired with expectation I called pretty hastily, and I must confess, not without anger, for a light and some wine; this as usual brought in a servant maid who as usual cried out ‘What’s your will ?’. I again told her my wants; but had no answer than that her mistress had the keys, and was at supper, and she could not be disturbed. Her mistress it is true is a gentlewoman, but before she was married to the stately beggar who keeps that house, she lived in this town and was humble enough to draw two-penny. The two-penny as they call it, is their common ale; the price of it is two pence for a Scots pint, which is two quarts.” 

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